Originally published in The Weekly Packet, February 20, 2014
Brooksville town elections
Two vie for open school board seat, municipal offices have familiar faces
by Anne Berleant
An incumbent and a former member will face off in a contested school board race during town elections on March 3. All other open seats will have only the names of incumbents on the ballot, as follows:
Richard Bakeman, three-year term as selectman; Denis Blodgett and Philip Wessel, three-year planning board seats; Matthew Freedman and John Kimball, three-year budget and advisory committee seats; Amber Bakeman, one-year term as town clerk; Yvonne Redman, one-year term as tax collector; Freida Peasley, one-year term as town treasurer; Matt Dow, one-year term as fire chief; and Mark Blake, one-year term as road commissioner.
Jones is seeking his second consecutive and fifth overall term on the school board. He served three terms beginning in 2001, and after one year off, was elected to serve in 2011. He has been employed by Wardwell Oil for 20 years.
Declining enrollment is “our biggest problem,” he said. “That’s very difficult to address. Nearly 25 percent of students in Brooksville don’t attend our school [but] seek other educational opportunities.”
Jones said community involvement would help address the issue. “Hopefully that would draw more students to the school. We’ve had less volunteers in the last few years.”
In a town “very rich in the arts, Jones said it would benefit the school to increase school interaction with artists and craftspeople. “It would be nice to expand on that.”
If re-elected, Jones said he would “continue working to mend relations with the teachers,” and maintain elementary programs “to the best of our abilities.” He would also like to see upgrades to the building that “we’ve put off a few years due to budget reasons.”
A new principal could rejuvenate the school, Jones said. “A strong leader who is willing to go out into the community…and bring community members into the school. And to unite the teachers.” He agrees with the search for a seventh/eighth grade teaching principal, the current advertisement “as it stands right now.”
Jones believes in boardsmanship training for board members. “Everyone should have some at some point. When I was first on the board, I had some and I relied on it.” For the entire board to undergo training is “probably helpful but I don’t feel it’s necessary.”
McMillen, a semi-retired real estate developer, seeks to return to the board he served for two terms, from 2000 to 2006.
He believes the “current course” of taking “small, corrective measures to the curriculum and to curtail the budget is leading to a downward spiral.”
The enrollment of 14 Brooksville students at Bay School is an indication of “an increasing lack of confidence in the school,” McMillen said.
He recommends building a budget around a “clear vision of a better school.”
Such a vision requires a “long thoughtful process” involving administrators, teachers, students, the principal and “concerned citizens.”
“The board seems entirely focused on the budget,” and the current one “cuts money from programs and moves it to legal defense.”
Addressing declining enrollment is an open question, McMillen said.
“I don’t know what the answer is…Consolidation is an obvious solution, but we’re all aware of consolidated schools breaking up as we speak.”
Regarding the search for a principal to lead the school starting in the 2014-15 year, McMillen agrees with a teaching principal position, but not necessarily to fill the open seventh and eighth grade English and social studies position.
“We don’t know if we’re going to find administrative strength and teaching ability in that subject in the same candidate pool,” he said. “I was in favor of leaving flexibility in [the] teaching [position].”
When asked whether the school board should undergo boardsmanship training, McMillen replied, “Absolutely.”
McMillen is also chairman and co-founder of the Brooksville Education Foundation, a local organization established in 2000, which awards renewable college scholarships. In 2013, the foundation awarded $47,000 in scholarships to 23 students last year.
Monday, March 3, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., Town Hall.